Instagram displays ad offering fake Covid vaccine certificates in Australia

Instagram has displayed an ad promoting fake vaccination certificates in Australia at a time when New South Wales and Victoria are emerging from Covid lockdowns and requiring people to present proof of vaccination.

Vaccination status can be proven at venues in the two states over the next few months using a printed certificate from the Australian Immunisation Register, a digital certificate on a person’s phone, or a record added to QR code check-in apps.

The ad, a screenshot of which was provided to Guardian Australia by someone who had seen it on Instagram, offered fake digital vaccine certificates that can be loaded into a phone’s digital wallet via the Medicare Express app or myGov account.

The ad appeared in the Instagram Stories feed – where ads appear between photos and videos uploaded by accounts a user follows.

After Guardian Australia made inquiries with Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, the account behind the ads was removed.

A spokesperson for Instagram confirmed the account was suspended for violating the company’s guidelines on fraud and deception, specifically around selling fake documents.

The spokesperson did not respond when asked how much money Instagram had been paid to promote the ad or how many users the ad had reached.

Guardian Australia has previously reported that forgeries are possible because the federal government has not implemented a system to verify certificates when presented.

Developer Richard Nelson, who raised concerns in August about the digital certificates by demonstrating they could be faked in 10 minutes, told the Full Story podcast this week that many people had since asked him how to forge theirs. He has declined those requests.

The Service NSW app version has a QR code allowing venues to verify someone’s vaccination status. The vaccine passport to be used when people travel overseas will also check vaccination status against government records.

However, using the Service NSW app for proof of vaccination is not mandatory, meaning people can present the paper or digital certificates instead.

Australia’s vaccination rate hit 70% of the over 16 population on Wednesday. So far there have been no reports of people attempting to present fake certificates.

Venues that Guardian Australia contacted this week said the main issues so far involved people who had no proof of vaccination, were not yet fully vaccinated or had forgotten their phone.

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